World War One in Europe was a defeating accomplishment because of the overall death toll. This paper will focus on why there were so many deaths during this wars, both civilian and military, by bringing a discussion about weapons technology to the forefront of the paper and how modern technology clashed with old tactics. In order to have a grasp of the world wars in Europe, a short history of communication and rivalry in Europe will be discussed in order for a clear picture of why so many countries were involved in these world wars. A focus on the daily lives of countrymen, especially Germans and especially the women left to fend for themselves while the men fought in the war will be dissected since Germany was a country who suffered financially after each war and the cruel reality that the country itself made their own people suffer with hunger in order to win the war (because funds were being transferred to developing weapons and not to the people of the country).
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However, once the treaty was finalized, it met great resistance in the American Congress. There were many factors that divided the American Congress of the treaty. One of these factors was the seemingly light punishment that Wilson detailed against Germany. Partly because the United States had only been on the war for a short time, and partly because Wilson wanted to end the US involvement in European politics, he drafted the “Fourteen Points” against Germany.
The next problem came from the congressmen who still opposed any US involvement in Europe. Since before the United States entered World War I, many Americans felt that US involvement was a waste of time and life. The Europe that emerged after the war was seen as much the same as it had been before the war began. Between these two main groups of opposition, there was not enough support, therefore, Wilson’s treaty failed to be ratified by the United States congress. Wilson felt this was a great failure; it plagued him throughout the remainder of his presidency.
Throughout Europe, the 17th and 18th centuries were a turbulent time. Among the many wars that were fought in this age, the War of Spanish Succession and the Seven Year’s War were particularly important.
During the reign of “The Sun King”, Louis XIV, of France, the Kingdom of Spain fought to break away from the hegemonic rule of the Hapsburgs. Following the death of the last Hapsburg king of Spain, the new king, Phillip V slowly began to break away from French domination. Though he was a grandson of France’s King Louis XIV, Phillip V wanted a sovereign Spain, while Louis XIV desired a Spain that would serve France.
The Holy Roman Empire saw the succession of Spain and the expansions of France as a threat. Therefore, Britain, the Danish kingdoms and the HRE joined into an alliance to stem this tide. Britain’s General, John Churchill, brought the greatest victories against France as he outmaneuvered Louis XIV, by securing the Netherlands, and the British foothold in Northern Europe.
A few decades later, the next Great War, The Seven Years’ War, engulfed Europe again. The pressing of French interests in the North American regions was seen as a threat to other European nations. Prussia and Great Britain allied against France and fought for (actually) nine years. The resulting outcome saw a weakened France on the American continent, and in Europe, and a more powerful Prussia Europe, and a dominant Great Britain in North America.
This war entailed the Allied powers of Britain, France and America (triple entente) against the central powers, Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (triple alliance) from August 1924- November 11, 1918. This war led to the eventual collapse of four major empires and a new power structure in Europe that would eventually be tested with the Second World War. The war tactic that was infamous during World War One was trench warfare, as Solar Navigator (1999) states.
Advances in military technology meant that defensive firepower out-weighed offensive capabilities, making the war particularly murderous, as tactics had failed to keep up. Barbed wire was a significant hindrance to massed infantry advances; artillery, now vastly more lethal than in the 1870s, coupled with machine guns, made crossing open ground a nightmarish prospect. By 1915 both sides were using poison gas. Neither side ever won a battle with gas, but it made life even more miserable in the trenches and became one of the most feared, and longest remembered, horrors of the war.
Between the trenches of opposing forces was what is commonly defined as ‘no man's land’ which accounted for a great percentage of deaths in this war.
Not only were troops mobilized in the sea, which is common practice for war, but for the first time in history, a battle commenced in the sky. The death rate of this war was tremendous due to numerous factors, as Solar Navigator, states,
…the Battle of St. Mihel in 1918. Here, within a matter of one day, American troops, supported by tanks, airplanes, and artillery, advanced over 20 miles, clearing a salient that had been a thorn in the side of the French army since 1914. More than 9 million soldiers died on the various battlefields, and nearly that many more in the participating countries' home fronts on account of food shortages and genocide committed under the cover of various civil wars and internal conflicts. In World War I, only some 5% of the casualties (directly caused by the war) were civilian - in World War II, this figure approached 50%.
These devastating facts highlight the true gruesome reality of World War One and its dramatic increase in deaths.
The end of World War one saw the demise of many empires and the eventual creation of different countries. These included the end of the Russian Empire but the birth of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics which would become a world power. The destruction of the Ottoman Empire led to the Republic of Turkey and other middle east states. Central Europe saw the rise of Czechoslovakia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Yugoslavia while other states were reestablished such as Austria, Hungary and Poland. Not only did World War One create new states of power and conflicting issues between these state would eventually lead to World War Two. In 1923 for example Fascists came into power in Italy and as Solar Navigator states, “…in 1933, 14 years after the war, Nazism took over Germany. Problems unresolved or created by the war would be highly important factors in the outbreak, within 20 years, of World War II”.
As most wars began, the First World War was the nascent war after an assassination. This assassination took place on June 28, 1914 (unofficially the beginning of the war). Gavrilo Princip, who was part of the Black Hand Gang assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. The reason for the Archduke’s visit was to take imperial rule over a province (Solar Navigator). It must also be stated that this was not the sole contributor to the war, but it was one factor of many.
Other causes of the war were included in the treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Trianon. Austria, along with Berlin essentially acted first in its invasion of Serbia on July 29 that is one cause of the war. Also, Germany who on August 3, attacked Belgium, ‘in accordance to the Schlieffen Plan’ (Solar Navigator). It was in these acts that the war began and it was in the above mentioned treaties that the Second World War may be found, as Solar Navigator states, “Though drastically simplified, such an overview clearly portrays Germany and Austria-Hungary as the aggressors, and therefore, those bearing responsibility. Not surprisingly, this resulted in the humiliation of Germany, which included the demand that Germany pay all the war costs (including pensions) of the Allies. This directly affected the global economy and indirectly contributed to the Great Depression”.
In the face of technology is the reflection of deaths of not only soldiers but citizenry. World War One was a war fought with 19th century tactics and 29th century weaponry and technology which explains the high death rate of the war, in the trenches alone it is reported that one man died for every meter of land gained (Solar Navigator). Many of history’s deadliest battles were fought in World War One, for example, Ypres, Vimy Ridge, Marne, Cmbrai, Somme, Verdun, and Gallipoli (Solar Navigator). There were so many deaths in the First World War because of artillery. Mass amounts of machine gun fire far outweighed the 19th century musket, and tanks as well as grenades and other bombs were used in exorbitant amounts, more so than any other war had been witness. Explosives alone amounted to a great majority of the death percentage reported at the end of the war. Also, “During the war, the [Haber process] of nitrogen fixation was employed to provide the German forces with a continuing supply of powder for the ongoing conflict in the face of Brittish naval control over the trade routes for naturally occurring nitrates” (Solar Navigator). Chemical warfare, such as the use of mustard gas, tear gas, etc. was highly used in the trenches and accounted for the disabling of soldiers and their eventual demise from artillery, or phosgene gas used to directly kill an opponent.
Of these wars it is apparent that the death rate among civilians was greatest in World War Two, but the military advances in technology and trench warfare’s gruesome military death rate was overpowering. The advances in technology during World War One were more prominent because the military was still using tactics of a previous century while incorporating technology that was far more advanced than either side was prepared.
While World War One saw the sights of tanks, machine guns, and gas, World War Two had more civilians die due to genocide, hunger, and homelessness. World War Two also saw the beginnings of germ warfare; although war in itself is barbaric, it is with civilian deaths, those who did not make a choice to go to war that this barbarism is truly portrayed.
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